This is SoV #30! Congrats to Jeff on the milestone and thank you to all of you for reading.
Here's Jeff's latest 'advice' column, this time with thoughts on Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Cosmopolitan, Bally's, Aria, Planet Hollywood and Paris.
My advice to Strip-area properties continues, this time focusing on the resorts south of Flamingo Road, between Bellagio and Bally's at the north end and Planet Hollywood and Aria at the south.
Five years ago Gary Loveman was giving serious consideration to imploding the oldest of Bally's two towers and transforming the property with a new tower and possibly giving it the historic Horseshoe brand. Times have changed and any major redevelopment of the property is a long way off. Bally's is joined at the hip with Paris, a connection mostly positive for Bally's guests able to walk to the sister property's amenities. But the close connection isn't always a plus. Some of Bally's outlets have been closed or had their hours dramatically reduced, forcing customers to walk a long way to, for example, the Paris Total Rewards desk. Bally's is a big property and deserves to have the full range of megaresort amenities. The big changes I think Bally's needs are a thorough modernizing of the restaurant and retail lineup. The retail area that leads from the casino east toward its monorail station still has a four-decades-old look and the restaurants are similarly dated. The incredibly long moving walkway to the Strip that is based at the west-end of the casino needs to have its moving parts better maintained; every time I use it there seems to be a significant portion under repair.
Paris Las Vegas
Caesars Entertainment needs to spend what it takes to redo all of the Paris rooms. The property halted its blue-to-red room redo before the improvements were halfway through due to cash constraints connected to the company's post-private-equity-takeover debt crisis and the recession. A significant portion of the rooms still have the blue soft goods (carpeting, drapes, bedspreads), wooden furniture and giant tubed TVs that Paris opened with in 1999. Now even the rooms with red soft goods, more modern furniture and flat-panel TV monitors (that still sell for a premium despite being half-a-decade old) need freshening. Caesars markets Paris, along with Planet Hollywood, as its second-best properties on the Strip, and the rooms shouldn't be stale. Neither should the restaurants and retail, most of which are the same as the ones that opened the property and need some freshening, especially the buffet and quick-serve outlets in the retail promenade. The casino's look is dated as well and could stand to lose its fake blue-sky-with-clouds ceiling, perhaps going with a darker, sexier nightlife look.
Bellagio enjoyed more than half-a-decade as the Strip's best resort and remains in the top tier of Las Vegas casinos, but time and a few unfortunate changes have tarnished some of its luster. The original tower's rooms are small compared with top-tier rivals and there's not much that can be done about that. A desire to capture more of the same business that Steve Wynn is capitalizing on with his multiplicity of nightclubs prompted a decision to turn the awesome Fontana Lounge into yet another club -- a move that may prove profitable but I think takes away from one of Bellagio's great charms: Venues that use the beautiful lake as a backdrop (or sidedrop, in the case of Fontana). Alright, enough whining about things that won't change, here's a few things that can. A renewed emphasis on superior customer service is needed, from the front desk to the housekeeping and food and beverage staffs. Many employees are still wonderful, but I believe there are a significant number who go through the motions. Resort executives need to reinvest in some of the things that used to delight guests: Installing new and inspired Conservatory decor, reversing a trend toward lower-cost staples at the buffet and insisting on exceptional restaurants and other amenities instead of accepting mediocrity. One possibility: Grab Alex Stratta and give him whatever he wants to set up shop. One venue, two venues, whatever he wants. Another thing I'd recommend that will be difficult for Bellagio executives is to resist the trend toward annoying daylife pool parties. Bellagio's pool and cabanas have always been quieter than those at Wynn, Encore and, now, Aria and Cosmopolitan. Embrace the difference and offer guests a less frenzied pool environment. It may generate less revenue but perhaps it will create a more appealing vibe for the older and affluent customers who have more to spend on Bellagio's other amenities. As a complement to "O," create a venue where performers like Harry Connick Jr. or Diana Krall can perform for hundreds (not thousands) of invited guests (gee, that sounds like the Fontana Lounge). Or, on occasion, talented rockers could do acoustic "unplugged" sets.
The Cosmo has done a masterful job marketing the property to the kind of folks who like to dine, party and don't like to gamble. It has an excellent array of restaurants and a decent collection of unusual retail outlets and one of the hottest nightclubs/dayclubs in the city. Those elements are excellent and what Cosmo needs to do is figure out a way to complement those assets without diminishing its appeal to the so-called "curious class" it now attracts. Step one should be a massive effort to fix the service and maintenance issues that have plagued hotel guests, from delayed check-ins to subpar room maintenance, inferior housekeeping and slow responses to problems. Simultaneously the property should figure out a way to make the casino more appealing to gamblers. Create a real sports book and poker room. Offer generous comps to reward mid-level and better play and give incentives to capture business from neighboring high-end casinos. Spend what it takes to hire hosts with proven customer contacts and provide generous bonuses to those who actually bring in a lot of play. Provide some lower-end table games to give younger people who are attracted to the Cosmo's entertainment and dining options a taste of casino excitement and then market to them to bring them back, not just to the property but into the casino. Add a second entertainment offering with an ongoing show, a venue that can generate casino, restaurant, bar and nightclub traffic every night (complementing the cool calendar of artists who already occasionally perform at Cosmo).
If MGM Resorts really wants Aria to compete at the very top tier of Las Vegas resorts it can't rely on building architecture, big rooms and modern technology. The property needs to establish an identity as the city's premier resort, and -- if it's already too late for that -- as one of the best. Spend the money to enhance Aria's sense of luxury. For example: Better toiletries and complimentary Fiji, Perrier [ugh. Pellegrino, please. - ed] or Panna water in the rooms. Instead of downgrading the buffet's quality and lowering its price, elevate both. And, while I think all properties should do this yet don't expect it, perhaps Aria could eliminate its resort fee, as the amenities it covers should be included in a true luxury resort's room rates. Certainly Aria needs to blow up the entertainment offering, even more than is already planned. Who in their right mind thought Elvis was a concept that meshed with the property's intended customer base? As "Viva Elvis" is currently being reworked, my advice is to get Cirque to get rid of all of the Elvis elements and develop a new show that will generate interest in the kind of folks CityCenter is likely to attract: Affluent urbanites, young-thinking Baby Boomers and Gen Xers/Gen Yers. Develop a small, hip entertainment venue that isn't merely a nightclub and try to steal some of the vibe Cosmopolitan currently attracts. Recruit a hipper selection of chefs and replace the restaurants that haven't captured diners' imaginations.
I was one of Aladdin's fiercest critics when it opened and felt that when it was purchased out of bankruptcy the new owners who converted it into Planet Hollywood didn't spend enough to truly transform it. I still have some complaints, but have to acknowledge that Caesars Entertainment has the customer base and marketing muscle to exploit the existing property assets. I'm not a fan of the giant wall of video monitors that covers PHo's Stripfront but acknowledge it is a relatively inexpensive fix to what was once a boring element. There obviously is a customer who is attracted to that type of visual stimulation and Planet Hollywood aggressively pursues him. The Miracle Mile retail plaza that nearly surrounds the casino has (after a halting start as the Desert Passage to the failed Aladdin) found its footing as the Strip's best mid-market retail plaza, with stores affordable to the wide range of folks who make up most of the Strip's visitor base. Planet Hollywood is still hampered by its design problems (difficult Strip access, vehicle entry from a side street, self-parkers forced to walk long distances through the mall) but it remains a modern casino and hotel with decent restaurant offerings. The property's youthful marketing orientation needs a happening nightclub (and a law-abiding one), maybe more than one, and a better pool (yes, this is one resort that I recommend have a strong daylife pool). Planet Hollywood has a very large entertainment venue, the Theater for the Performing Arts and should make a stronger effort to attract a permanent or semi-permanent act (in the manner of Celine Dion) who can fill up thousands of seats on a regular basis. If you have the venue you should aggressively try to capitalize on it.
-- Jeff Simpson, September 2011